"Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality"-Emily Dickinson
The backyard was on fire. Thousands of blooming marigolds swayed in the soft autumn breeze and became flowery embers burning in the grass. Their bold orange color blazed in the afternoon sunshine.
The old woman reached her hands into her apron and pulled out her garden shears . Carefully, she held the flower in front of her and neatly snipped the stem . She repeated the process until she had collected enough blooms to fill her apron and returned to the kitchen laying her bounty on the table.
The countertops were filled with trays of fresh baked cookies, waiting patiently to be decorated after they had cooled.
She proceeded to braid the marigold stems forming wreathes that she would bring to the cemetery filled with cookies. Her hands trembled slightly as she counted steps in her head. Up. Down. Over. Under. She was methodical, following the steps she had been taught by her grandmother.
She stole a glance at the clock on the wall over the table. It was quarter past three and her grandchild would be arriving from school at any moment. The thought of her missing tooth grin and shiny black hair put a smile on the old woman’s face. The granddaughter was an exact replica of herself at that age.
The old woman had almost finished the wreaths when the front door opened and closed. The small feet made little tapping noises as they ran up the stairs to the kitchen.
“Bibi,” the granddaughter exclaimed, wrapping her arms around her grandmother and squeezing tightly.
The hug ended and she asked , “What are you doing?” .
“Come, sit “ the old woman said.
When her granddaughter was seated in the chair next to her , the old woman explained the stems braided to hold the flowers together in a wreath.
“Why “? The granddaughter inquired, confused but intrigued.
“It is a tradition” the old woman began, “ my grandmother taught me, and I will teach you .
She placed the cookies on the table with tubes of different colored icing. She iced the first cookie, using white and black to create the appearance of a skull, then added red and green for flowers , finishing the cookie with a blue hat and scarf .
The granddaughter clapped her hands gleefully. “More” she begged.
Using skill and precision mastered with years of repetition , the old woman proceeded to decorate a parade of cookies with various colors and images . She handed her granddaughter a tube of icing and a cookie and said, “ you do one”.
The granddaughter placed a single line of icing down the middle of the cookie . Then squeezed parallel lines on each side of the cookie. She took another tube and placed curvy lines in between the straight lines. She beamed at her grandmother.
“Cookies and flowers ?” the child asked.
“And gin “ the old woman added, placing the heavy bottle on the table, “your grandfather’s favorite”
The old woman gathered the wreaths and cookies, tucking them neatly in a box for carrying. She added the gin and several candles.
She extended her hand to her granddaughter who held it and together they walked to the cemetery .
The old woman explained to her granddaughter that today was special . Today was All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead. Today was the day to honor and remember all the dearly departed who are gone from this life.
“Oh, Bibi”, the child exclaimed, “Don’t dead people scare you ?”
The old woman laughed, “The dead have never hurt anyone, I’m more scared of the living”
The child contemplated this and the old woman continued, “ we bring them food and spirits and marigolds. Marigolds are so pretty and bright and fragrant that they attract the souls” .
The old woman and her granddaughter arrived at the family crypts and placed the box on the ground. The old woman set about covering the memorial stones with black lace , and laid the wreaths and the cookies on each one. She placed the bottle of gin on her husband’s grave with a kiss.
The child noticed that others had started to gather as well. It was getting dark. The old woman lit the candles.
“Dead people can’t eat the cookies or see the flowers” the child stated in an intelligent and logical manner.
The old woman smiled, “Says who?”
“They can’t ! “the child insisted , “its stupid” !
The old woman held her granddaughter . The child had become angry at the notion of something that was untrue. She attempted to soothe her by stroking her hair . When the child had calmed down, the old woman spoke again.
“ My grandmother taught me and I am going to teach you. Life is not all about what you see and smell. Life is what you believe. “
“Believe ?” the child asked.
“Yes” the old woman nodded and kissed the top of her head before continuing .
“We believe that the soul is energy . Energy can not be created or destroyed , it only changes form. When someone “dies” on this earth, in this life , only their body has died , the soul keeps living “
The child continued to listen and the old woman continued to speak, “ As long as we remember them, they will never die . Every year we do this to remember them . Promise that you will never forget that . You have to remember them with marigolds and cookies . Marigolds are very powerful. Promise you won’t forget”
“I promise “ said the child , holding onto the old woman’s hand , “I won’t forget the dead “.
Time passed as time does.
The granddaughter grew into a young lady who eventually got married , had a family of her own and moved into the house inherited from her grandmother , where the blooming marigolds set the backyard on fire.
Each year she baked cookies and decorated them with different colored icing . She braided the stems of fresh picked marigolds into wreaths and created floral bowls to place on the crypts .
She carried them in a box to the cemetery, placing black lace on the stones before setting down the offerings. She vowed to remember all she had been taught . She vowed to believe.
Many years later, an old woman walked into the backyard of her home , wearing an apron , and carrying garden shears. The sun was shining brightly and it was unusually warm for November.
The marigolds had bloomed into a fiery blanket, covering the grass. She smiled as she clipped the stems placing them neatly in a basket. The smell of the flowers had perfumed the air . Maybe the marigolds "were" powerful, she mused.
She turned towards another bloom and felt another hand hold hers .
She never looked up to see her grandmother standing there, with her grandfather , who had cleared a path for her through the flowers . She never saw the shears fall from her hands . She never felt her heart stop or her body fall to the ground or her eyes close.
The next thing she saw , was a candle burning brightly in the darkness of the cemetery and a wreath of marigolds holding cookies above the gold letters of her name in the marble stone.